I buy burned books
So through the pandemic I have been buying books nihilisticly. I have always had more books than I could reasonably expect to get through any time soon, but my pace of acquisition has taken a turn for the obscene through COVID-19.
Then a new category of purchasing broke out in the pandemic.
In 2020 there began a fresh new hostility to divergent perspectives. It took a unique turn against books. I think I first did it with Abigail Shrier's Irreversible Damage. Though the fact that I knew Jesse Singal had a book coming out, The Quick Fix, might have also been part of it.
I started buying condemned books.
The tipping point came when I heard that an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union was actively campaigning against Irreversible Damage reaching the world, as if a book could itself cause irreversible damage.
You would think as a writer I would find this flattering, but the truth is I know both how important it is to write and how precious little of it has any impact on anything. The truth: even most "important" writing would not have been important on its own. It's important as a manifestation of a historical event.
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is mostly important (though it is a very good letter) because it was written from that Birmingham city jail then. The context really adds a lot to the impact of the text over time.
Books are important but they aren't that important. In fact, what's much more important than any particular book's content is the ability of people to make more books with more content in them. Truly, that is more important any particular book. This push and pull of ideas is how dialectics work. Vociferous disagreement is the push back on a consensus, on a dominant thesis, that leads to a synthesis or thesis.
People are much too troubled right now for anyone to actually be correct about anything, and that's why we need a more open and direct and vigorous clash than ever. I'm on no one's side here but this: the censors are all wrong.
So I got frustrated by the attack on Shrier, and I bought her book out of pique. I can't imagine I will ever read it.
Similarly, I have met Singal. He seems like a pretty ok guy. If anything, he's too deferential to his detractors' positions. I bought his book as soon as he started begging for pre-orders. I can't imagine I will read his either, not because I don't think it would be good. I imagine it's very well done. But psychology? Also not my thing.
Similarly, I bought Unmasked by Andy Ngo. This one I might read. When I was doing anti-fracking work in Pennsylvania I started noticing people showing up at rallies I organized who bore the aesthetic we now understand as "antifa." This was all before it had a name, before anyone had even imagined a president to follow Obama.
They wore a lot of black, ripped clothing. They kept gas masks on at times when it pretty clearly wasn't necessary. They never talked to me but I could tell they viewed me as a sell-out for working for an actual organization with funders and offices.
So, I'm curious. I might read Ngo's jam, but that's not why I bought it. I just bought it because it made folks angry that it exists.
But here's the point I'm making: it irritates me that people want to stop books from getting published. Publishing is so anemic now. Publishers aren't going to take a chance on something that they don't think someone will want to read. If folks want to read a thing they should be permitted to read it.
It's so frustrating to see this moment take shape.
So I guess the secret is out: if you want to see one additional book get purchased, get someone to kick up a row about keeping it off the shelves. When I see that, I won't be able to resist clicking "buy."
Will I ever have anything to say about it? Maybe not (probably not), but your sales rank will click up one notch.
As I wrote this it hit me that I must so I put Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson into my cart on Amazon for the next time I close one there, which will no doubt happen any day. I haven't even read the first 12 rules but here we are! In fact, this could very well be the first self-help book I have ever purchased!
You did this to me, America/Twitter/The Discourse. You did this, not me.
April 13, 2021